Best of Baselworld 2018: 13 of the most talked-about watches in the world

If the watch industry is recovering from a lean period you would never know it from walking the halls of Baselworld in Switzerland last week.

The Swiss watch industry's most important international trade show was a feast for mechanical watch fans, commentators and retailers alike, with some 800 exhibitors showing their wares in the vast Messe complex in the small city of Basel.

It has undoubtedly been a period of change for the industry. While the overall number of watches sold fell last year, more expensive watches are prospering. Swiss watch exports were up 12.8 per cent in the first two months of the year, with the Chinese market rising around 30 percent.

Booth battles

You need only look at the positioning of the 'booths' along the main thoroughfare to see which brands are flourishing after a tough few years in watch retail.

Luxury group LVMH were in prime position at the top of the walk, showcasing brands TAG Heuer, Hublot, Zenith and Bvlgari with the first of Baselworld's signature booths.

Combining elements of a swish flagship store, hospitality enclosure and temporary office block, each booth hosts appointment-only meetings with the biggest players in the watch industry across six action-packed days of the fair.

Also on the all-important ground floor were Rolex, Patek Philippe, Blancpain, Breguet, Chopard, the players from Swatch Group (Omega, Longines and Harry Winston among them), Breitling, Chanel and Gucci. 

Novel ideas

Each brand presented a dizzying array of 'novelties', with special limited edition pieces and new brand directions revealing an array of hot trends and intricate craftsmanship commanding price tags in excess of $100,000 a piece.

Overall, big brands played it safe this year, with the many of the novelties being revamps of classic pieces from the '30s and '40s, with retro divers, pilots and chronographs presented across the fair.

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Green-faced watches were popular, and the blue boom of recent years showed no signs of slowing down.

Ceramic finishes, complex tourbillons, two-coloured bezels, enlarged crowns, skeleton dials and multicoloured rainbow jewels also popped up at more than one booth.

Leading watch website Hodinkee called it the 'year of the everyday watch', with function over frivolity ruling the wrist.

Match fit

Glamorous outfit Hublot came to play, hosting a lavish party the night before the official start of the fair. A nearby basement was taken over for a spirited 'Match of Friendship' indoor soccer match for up to 1000 influential guests featuring such sporting icons as Maradona, Usain Bolt, and star coach Jose Mourinho (to name a few).

The friendly game celebrated Hublot's lucrative sponsorship of the World Cup in Russia later this year, presenting the brand's first ever smartwatch for the occasion.

The Big Bang Referee 2018 FIFA World Cup watch was developed for the referees at this year's Cup, but can be yours for a little over $7000 – one of the more upscale smartwatches around, but perhaps the most stylish –  with country-specific livery and interactive technology beamed into the watch live during each match of the World Cup.

TAG power

In a genuinely subversive move, TAG Heuer also mixed things up by revealing a clever new collaboration with renegade watch modifier George Bamford, an English son-of-a-billionaire known for customising Rolexes with unofficial materials (much to the chagrin of Rolex) for the ultimate in personalised luxury.

LVMH's watch and jewellery CEO Jean-Claude Biver announced the new line of Monaco watches pimped out by the Bamford Watch Department with carbon-fibre cases and a Bamford-signature black and turquoise dials. There are just 500 available, sure to be snapped up fast by collectors. 

Also at TAG Heuer, the new Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon Chronometer was a drool-worthy showstopper in midnight blue ceramic, the first from the brand to be awarded a prestigious 'Tête de Vipère' by the Besançon Observatory.

Breitling light

Another of the most talked-about brands at Baselworld was Breitling, which is undergoing a dramatic renaissance under the leadership of new CEO Georges Kern, formerly of IWC.

The brand's iconic wings have been clipped from the logo, but that's not the only change afoot as the Kern and creative director Guy Bove roll out a sophisticated new line of sharp watches, including a range of Navitimer 8s supported by a forthcoming ad campaign starring dynamic new 'squads' of ambassadors.

Breitling's Hollywood squad features Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron and Star Wars up-and-comer Adam Driver, but we have our eyes on the surfing squad featuring Australian wave-riders Sally Fitzgibbon and Stephanie Gilmore.

Click through the gallery above to see 13 of the standout faces at Baselworld 2018.

The writer travelled to Baselworld with LVMH.